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4 Steps to a More Positive Outlook

Focus on slowing down, gaining perspective, positivity, and friendship.

Key points

  • Life is stressful for everyone, but you can take steps to help make yourself cope and be more positive.
  • Slow down, distinguish between what is within and outside your control, and make manageable plans to make the changes you want.
  • Underscoring the positives in your life and focusing on appreciating and reinforcing them is an important way to manage your stress.

If there’s one constant in all my conversations these days, it is a pervasive feeling of everyone being more stressed than usual. Some find that small setbacks or reminders of difficult times are more impactful than normal, even devastating. Even those whose lives are fortunate enough to be mostly full of positive things often feel overwhelmed.

I’m also hearing that Covid doesn’t feel like it should still be a reason for emotions or reactions being so close to the surface. But the ghosts of Covid past, present, and future are most definitely roaming.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator/Pexels
Take action to look toward the positive
Source: LinkedIn Sales Navigator/Pexels

As I’ve written about in previous blogs, stress comes in many different shapes and sizes. Or, rather, in different intensities and timeframes.

Here’s a refresher. There are moderate, short-term levels of stress that are mostly good for us – even called positive stress by some – as they ensure we perform at our best when needed. More challenging stress levels are tolerable because, although the stress can be acute, it doesn’t last too long, and we have adequate support in place to buoy us through it and time to recover afterward.

And then there’s toxic stress. Well, that speaks for itself – it’s the long-term stress that can come from shocking events with no let-up. It can also be exposure to seemingly unending anxiety and uncertainty, onslaughts to our sense of security, control, and calm. And if that doesn’t describe the last few years of Covid, even for those who have been relatively fortunate throughout, then I don’t know what does.

Okay, now we have at least a partial culprit and can stop blaming ourselves for our reduced ability to cope, but how does that help us? What can we do about it? The answer lies in part in that much-quoted prayer that we have the wisdom to understand what we have the power to change and what we don’t, together with a little old-fashioned positive thinking and compassion.

The best things we can do for ourselves right now, especially now, is to slow down and:

  1. Recognize what is out of our control, and we must just ‘ride out.’
  2. Identify what’s within our control and make some plans accordingly.
  3. Celebrate the good things.
  4. Find or reach out to those who support us best or need our support.

Note that we need to slow down and be intentional about becoming self-aware to do all this. A phrase I use often is the need to "take the view from the balcony." All this really means is trying to get an objective take on things – check our assumptions, put things in perspective.

Try to identify the things that are not in your control – like the direction of the pandemic or the devastation of war in Ukraine; and what is in your control – whether you choose to wear a face mask or donate to active refugee charities.

Try to let go of those things outside your control. I know it’s easier said than done, but just making it an intention will help you succeed with this or just get a little better at it.

For the things in your control: pick just one or, at most, a couple at a time; identify a goal, and plan to reach that goal. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many goals. Make a plan that you know is manageable. Once you’ve notched up a few successes, you can stretch yourself later and feel more confident.

Ariadne Platero, LMSW
Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative
Source: Ariadne Platero, LMSW

Next, go through your life with a big yellow highlighter. Put away the more critical red pen we use to identify where we fall short. I know the red pen can be helpful sometimes, but too often, we use it to the exclusion of a more positive focus.

This time around, focus on the good things. What have you got, right? When are you content, engrossed, or productive? What successes can you point to? Write these down and keep them somewhere to go back to when you’re feeling fragile. Think actively about how you managed those successes and if there are actions or approaches you can extract from them, replicate, and incorporate into your daily routines.

If you’re feeling there’s not much to celebrate out there – and we all tend to play down our successes, not to mention the pervasive creep of a negative spiral making it difficult for us to be more positive – ask a friend or partner to do the exercise with you.

Finally, start actively looking to connect with others. If some of those happy times or successes were with friends or colleagues, get in touch. Plan a repeat. Maybe confide in a friend with what you’re struggling with. If you’re reluctant to do it for yourself, do it for your friends’ sake. That adage of a problem shared is a problem halved may not be true all the time but feeling you’re not alone when wrestling with something is often a great relief.

Remember, reflection is the beginning of a reset, and that is in your hands.

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